Friday, 25 March 2011

Is the legacy of the IRA a load of old rubbish?

The central problem in Anglo-Irish relations is that the Irish remember too much, and the English forget too quickly. Most Englishmen barely remember who Oliver Cromwell was. In Ireland, his armies might as well be rampaging through the land still, slaughtering the people in an orgy of self-righteous fury.

The same forgetfulness afflicts us now. We’re losing sight of how things were only twenty years ago. Throughout the 1980s, when I regularly travelled into Central London from the suburbs, it became a routine to check for abandoned packages on the overhead shelves or under the seats every time I got into a train. While I never saw a bomb go off, I twice heard them: it wasn’t Belfast, far less Beirut, but London was an uneasy place.

Today, practically no trace remains of those troubled days. People, and above all politicians, love to whip up anxiety over Moslem terrorism, but they’re not even in the same league as the IRA. Why, apart from the casualties, the IRA regularly shut down the main stations or other public places by the simple expedient of phoning in a bomb warning, sometimes without going to the trouble of actually planting a bomb. You had to admire their economy of effort, to say nothing of their sheer deviousness.

Still, if there is little trace of those times today, they have at least left one small legacy. I’m reminded of it every time I go through the glorious, airy and brilliantly constructed main hall of St Pancras International station, something I’m obliged to do a couple of times on most days. The architecture is wonderful, the layout charming, the atmosphere uplifting – but there isn’t a single litter bin.

Now this is a direct result of the IRA campaign. Bins were far too easy places to plant bombs, so in the course of the eighties, they were done away with throughout London. In recent years, they’ve been gradually coming back, usually in the form of clear plastic bags, in which I presume it would be relatively easy to spot a bomb (if, say, it comes with trailing wires or perhaps a helpful label ‘bomb’).

But St Pancras is hanging on grimly to the tradition of the last two decades and resisting the reintroduction of waste bins. I asked a cleaner once ‘so where do I leave my coffee cup?’

‘On a table or a chair, anywhere you like,’ came the answer, ‘we’ll clear it up.’

So that’s what I do. I dump my rubbish any old where in the station, and each time I think of the IRA.

My personal tribute to the IRA
A fitting monument, I’d say.

No comments: